Chances of history: Deepwater Horizon and Texas City

With the Deepwater Horizon spill worsening further, and "ultimate relief" likely three months away, it's not surprising that people have started to throw bricks at the involved parties with articles like "BP Fought Safety Measures at Deepwater Oil Rigs." This will no doubt continue (Halliburton and Transocean have also already been called for a Congressional pillorying), and wherever the lion's share of the blame is ultimately laid, no one will come out looking good.

I find the parallel to the Texas City refinery blast fascinating. There also, BP was accused of prioritizing cost savings over safety, and the tragic accident ultimately derailed the aspirations of John Manzoni, then head of BP downstream, to succeed John Browne as CEO of BP. Until then the heir apparent. Manzoni fell from grace with the Texas City incident and the lesser-known head of BP's upstream business, Tony Hayward, assumed the spotlight, and ultimately Browne's job.

Imagine the parallel universe in which Deepwater Horizon blew up in 2005, and Texas City not until 2010. Does Manzoni become CEO? Does BP not back away from "Beyond Petroleum" as much as it has during Hayward's tenure? Does this have knock-on effects beyond the super-major and throughout the entire global energy business?

I don't have any answers, but the questions fascinate me, as does the idea that such a complex and enormous beast like global energy markets can turn simply on chance and personality.

On a distantly related tack, Michael Roberts takes this opportunity to look at what might be called the political economy of small-probability catastrophic events.

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